8 Things All LGBTQ-Friendly Wedding Businesses Should Be Doing


It's more than just a badge for your website

Do's and Dont's for Being a Kickass LGBTQ-Friendly Wedding Vendor

Now that same-sex marriage is legal across the US (yay!), we’re seeing a ton of self-identified “LGBTQ-friendly” vendors rushing to service the needs of the community. This proactive strategy is a great first step towards creating a more LGBTQ-friendly wedding environment. However, as more companies attach themselves to the moniker “LGBT-friendly,” the term has largely been stripped of its meaning. Without action, it mostly means that you’re open to serving yet another market segment. But to truly earn the LGBT-friendly label, it’s time to stop thinking about LGBTQ people as a market, and start thinking of them as people.

As a queer married photographer, I focus on serving my own community because they’re my family. Through doing this work (and my former job running a resource for gay wedding planning), I’ve thought a lot about how to put your money where your mouth is. It goes beyond “lesbian-owned and operated.” And it goes beyond “LGBT-friendly.” (APW, of course, is awesome in requiring that all its vendors commit to marriage equality.) But LGBTQ couples need more that that. So I’ve put together a few dos and don’ts for creating a company that’s truly committed to LGBTQ people – beyond marriage equality – and wants to make sure their business is truly LGBTQ-friendly.

DO:

  • Get actively involved in the community. Talk to people, and lots of them. As the late great queer theorist, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick once wrote, “People are different from each other.” That includes LGBTQ people. Your “gay friend” represents themself, not the community at large. You can’t overstate my love of drag, but going to Pride to get drunk and ogle drag queens does not make you an ally in the deepest sense of the word.
  • Stay informed. Obviously, we’re in the wedding industry, but queer folks care about a lot more than marriage equality, so you need to get beyond, “Isn’t it great you guys can get married?!” There’s lots of other LGBT-related news that’s better conversation fodder (and it’s pretty easy to find online).
  • Ask your clients what pronouns they prefer when you are in doubt. It’s far better to respectfully ask (“What pronouns do you prefer?”) than to repeatedly misgender someone. Respect and adhere to what they say.
  • Offer your services to real couples if you’re trying to build your portfolio. If you do inspiration shoots it’s super-duper awkward when the models are performing a sexual orientation or gender expression that isn’t their own. Trust me, we can tell. It’s not about gaydar; it’s about attention to chemistry. We can always tell. It’s pandering and tokenizing.

DON’T:

  • Don’t make assumptions about gender roles and expressions in relationships. There may be two brides, two grooms, or a bride and a groom, or they might hate all those labels. Listen to how your clients describe their relationship and how they interact. For the love of God, do not assume one person is the “girl” who needs to be in center and in focus of each shot, with the other person vaguely out of focus in the background. (Don’t do that with straight people either—please.)
  • Before you go on a tagging binge, don’t assume someone identifies as gay. I have a form that I send clients with a checklist where they can check off identities, styles, etc. by which they would be comfortable with tagging their wedding (“gay” “queer” “rustic” “Indian” “religious” “plus size”). Yes, I know you want SEO as we all do, but don’t prioritize that over your couple.
  • Don’t gender your website or materials. Your website must prioritize your clients over other vendors and even over the powers that be at Google. You might not think it’s a big deal to write “Bride” and “Groom” on your contracts, but it is, and we notice. Natalie and I did a lot of crossing out when signing our contracts. It’s exclusionary, and oh-so-very-easy to fix.
  • Most of all, don’t out people. This is particularly important if one person is trans*. Unless they tell you, you don’t know if they identify as trans* or fully with another gender, and you don’t know how they identify in their workplace, with their family, etc. Ask.

What it all comes down to fundamentally is to pay attention and listen. Learn. Ask. And be open to difference.

Kelly Prizel

Kelly Prizel lives in New Haven, Connecticut and New York City with her wife, Natalie… and a dog, two cats, and three rabbits. She is the owner of Kelly Prizel Photography, which caters to LGBTQ couples. In her spare time, she still takes photos because she can’t help herself, listens to Radiolab, and watches dinosaur movies.

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  • Alexandra

    Jeez. What a minefield. Any grace for bumbling, well-meaning wedding vendors? I still don’t know what cis-gendered means…I keep seeing the term this week, guess I’ll go google it now.

    • Ashlah

      At its most basic, it just boils down to being respectful and not making assumptions. Don’t assume someone’s gender, don’t assume someone’s orientation, don’t assume certain things about those people when you DO know their gender or orientation.

      And cisgender is the opposite of transgender–you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth.

    • TeaforTwo

      I am sure that this comment itself is well-intentioned, but I think it’s important to remember that the point here isn’t whether wedding vendors are getting grace or feeling comfortable: it’s about whether queer couples are being served in a way that’s inclusive and respectful. Bumbling but well-meaning wedding vendors who aren’t able to do these things…probably aren’t going to be a great fit for a queer wedding.

      • Eenie

        Maybe a better questions that Alexandra should have asked is: where is a good starting place to start understanding the LGBTQ point of view? For someone who doesn’t have any interactions in their social circles how can they enlighten themselves – books, websites, etc.?

        • jspe

          I think I’d love to see those questions answered by a straight person. “How I learned more about queer identity and became a better ally”. Instead of queer folks being responsible for providing education on who I am. (same goes for race, dis/ability, and other marginalized identities.) It’s always better when a marginalized person doesn’t have to do that work.

          • Cleo

            I get what you’re saying on a level (I’m Jewish and happen to have a lot of non-Jewish friends, so I get a lot of “why do you all do that?” and I’ve become the de facto Jew), but as a white, cisgender, hetero female, I feel inordinately privileged and don’t want to abuse that and become whatever the equivalent of a mansplainer is for not sexist issues.

            And because of that, I don’t feel it’s my place to say “Hey! Here’s how other people in a place of privilege should learn understand x minority group that I’m not a part of.” Because maybe my source is outdated or irrelevant, but even if its not, I don’t feel like I should be speaking for a minority group that’s struggling to find a voice in the world.

            It’s a tricky balance because I educate friends one-on-one who do things like use the wrong pronoun for a trans*person, etc. but in larger discussions, I don’t want to get up on the soapbox and say “here’s what you should read/know/think/do about the GLBTQ community.”

          • TeaforTwo

            I see your point, but it’s also very possible to educate yourself without proclaiming yourself an expert. So if you see a term like “cisgender” and you’re confused: google it yourself, rather than waiting for a genderqueer person to explain it to you.

            If you want to be an ally, read things that were written by queer people. Consume queer media. Patronize queer businesses. Call out homophobia/heteronormativity/transphobia whenever you see it. Anyone of those things will make you a better ally without needing you to climb up on a soapbox, or speak for other people.

          • jspe

            to clarify, I didn’t mean “proclaim yourself an expert” so much as say “hey straight friends: I’m also straight and I’ve been doing some reading and thinking. thought you might find this useful too.”

    • jspe

      googling is your best bet, but if you’d like to make your way from “bumbling” to “comfortable”, I like this Gender 101 as a starting place: http://www.fiercemag.co/gender-101/

    • lady brett

      (adjusting for personality, of course,) i think the amount of grace people are able to extend is directly related to the amount of hurt they carry.

    • Nell

      I’d imagine that as a vendor, you encounter all sorts of people who have aspects of their identity that you don’t identify with personally. As a florist, you gotta know what a chuppah is, even if you aren’t Jewish. Caterers should brush up on Halal rules. Same goes for the LGBTQ community. Educate yourself! It’s good for business, and it’s good for your community.

      There are some bumbling things that we have been okay with in our wedding planning process – others that have caused us to just pick a different vendor entirely. So think of it this way – the better educated you are, the more likely you are to earn the business of a non-hetero couple.

  • MABie

    Since I am in a same-sex relationship and am currently planning a wedding, I want to point out a couple of things to any vendors who may be reading this. I hope this doesn’t sound harsh! I just have pretty strong feelings about this topic.

    1. If I have to ask if you’re same-sex friendly — by which I mean, if it is not immediately obvious from your portfolio, materials, and online reviews that you are excited about LGBT couples — I’m not going to ask. I don’t feel like constantly outing myself and exposing myself to something scary and marginalizing. I’ll just move on to the next vendor. Vendors, this is as easy as just checking the “LGBT” box on WeddingWire! (Sidenote: my fiancee has made a game out of counting how many vendors check the “double weddings” box, but do not check the “LGBT” box. How many people have double weddings?? Is it really so common that WeddingWire needs a category for it?? This is astounding to us.)

    2. If I see a vendor contract that says “bride” and “groom” instead of some sort of neutral language, I walk away from that vendor.

    It’s hard enough to plan a wedding while not being able to legally get married in our state, cope with the hurtful things that family members say, etc. I just don’t need vendor stress on top of it.

    I am trying to pay you thousands of dollars, and the effort required to make me feel comfortable enough to do that is just so minimal.

    • KristieJHenson
    • kathleen smith

      (How i got my husband back with the prayers of Dr Akim )I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too.f It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com).

    • Candy+Co. Events

      Here-Here MABie!! Well said!

  • Nell

    “Don’t make assumptions about gender roles or expressions in relationships.”

    A hundred thousand times yes! Also true for wedding guests, random people at work who discover you are engaged. . . and really all human beings generally.

    As a dress-wearer, it is assumed that I am basically planning alone, and my partner will show up when she is done mowing the lawn/driving her pickup/swilling scotch. Simple things that I wish every vendor would do:

    – Email both halves of the couple. All the time. Every time.

    – If you encounter an engaged person at your business shopping alone, don’t ask things like “What does HE do? How did HE propose?” – you can ask, “Tell me about your fiance/e!” (This was particularly problematic for me when shopping for feminine things like makeup and dresses).

    – Don’t tell me about the one time you went to a lesbian/gay wedding. I know you’re trying to relate – but if it’s a one-off story about your third cousin who had a rooftop wedding in Manhattan, and I’m having a barn wedding in rural PA, then it sounds like all you have heard me say in the last hour is “I’m gay.”

    • MABie

      DRESS SHOPPING. What a minefield!!! That JUST happened to me over the weekend. Less than five minutes after the consultant made sure to tell the seamstress that my fiancee is a woman, the seamstress asked me, “So, what’s HE wearing?” It was so automatic for her that she didn’t even think about it. So awkward for all three of us.

      • jspe

        I knew our dressmaker was the one when, over the phone, she totally got it and was more concerned that we were too traditional for her than she for us. It was the best.

      • Rose

        Yeah, it wasn’t quite that bad for me, but there was definitely a moment with “So how did he propose?” Which was easy enough to deal with; I just said that actually it was a her, and I proposed, and then the attendant was really great about it and offered tips on how to coordinate outfits and all. But even with the best possible outcome from that question, it was still awkward. I know so many wedding things are so so so gendered, but it seems like it shouldn’t be that hard to use gender-neutral language. Especially since (when spoken) fiance/e is so helpfully indistinguishable.

        • MABie

          Seriously. In this day and age, what is so complicated about saying, “How did your fiance propose?” And don’t bridal shop people WANT to avoid the awkward interaction that might jeopardize a sale? Sigh.

          • Nell

            But that assumes that the dress-wearing person didn’t do the proposing! In all honesty, I’d rather answer questions like, “When is the wedding? Is it indoor or outdoor?” At least those questions might affect the type of outfit I want to wear to the wedding.

          • MABie

            Oooh, that’s a really good point, Nell! I didn’t even think of that because in most of the same-sex relationships I know (including my own), both parties proposed at different times. But you are so right. General questions about the wedding itself are a lot less loaded. And when you’re asking the dress-wearing person about how the fiancee proposed, you’re making the assumption that the other person is the pants-wearer, which is really annoying, stereotypical, and, in my case, not even true.

      • I am curious if vendors usually do email both halves of a couple? As a vendor I always just email the person that contacted me unless they start ccing the other person. It seems like most of the people I have been working with planning my own wedding do the same. No one has asked anything about my fiance unless I volunteer it.

  • emilybrook

    Amen to all these! And to Nell’s below. I think an important thing to remember is that as a vendor, you’re not just tacking on LGBT couples as another kind of wedding you are comfortable handling—what it really means to be LGBT-friendly is to rethink your assumptions about how you interact with all couples getting married. So, yes, email both people in the couple. Don’t only interact with or seek input from “the bride.” Follow the couple’s lead—don’t automatically use “bride” and “groom” language. Don’t ask a woman trying on a wedding dress how many groomsmen her fiancé is going to have (happened to me, at a “indy” NYC wedding dress boutique).

    Be thoughtful and open. LGBT couples might choose to embrace traditional rituals—or opt for the opposite. If you don’t assume much and listen well, you probably won’t put your foot in your mouth.

    This stuff is exciting to me, because it suggests that LGBT people aren’t just assimilating to marriage—marriage is changing, becoming more equal, more inclusive, less regressive in terms of gender roles thanks to LGBT people, too.

    And cheers to all of us brave queer people who put ourselves out there over and over, to friendly vendors, clueless vendors, wonderfully affirming vendors, and everything in between!

  • scrutables

    The point about same-sex models/actors playing a couple sticks out to me. Straight actors and models can play gay just like gay folks can play straight, if they don’t suck at their jobs. It’s still hard for gay guys and girls to be cast in straight roles, and making a rule that the opposite instance isn’t OK seems limiting for the very population we’re trying to consider. Most people would love to build a portfolio with real subjects for many reasons, but that’s not always practical, especially in markets where queer people are steered towards limiting their own visibility.

    I agree with all those other point for all weddings, though. Just because I’m having an opposite sex wedding doesn’t mean you can email only me, or that I’m stoked about my bride-liness, or that he proposed.

    • MABie

      I agree. I don’t mind seeing fake wedding shoots that feature two ladies at all. In fact, I consider that a plus for those vendors. They are obviously trying to make same-sex couples feel comfortable coming to them. One of our vendors, who is about the most LGBT-enthusiastic vendor out there, confided to me recently that they just don’t get inquiries from same-sex couples, and they really don’t know how to increase inquiries. To me, it is perfectly okay to be a part of those shoots in order to show that you are open to same-sex couples. On second thought, it is MORE than okay. I REALLY REALLY want to see more fake wedding shoots featuring same-sex couples!!!

  • Hannah

    *So* great to find an article by Kelly Prizel among today’s posts! (How I miss So You’re Engayged!, though I don’t blame Kelly one bit for stepping away from it.)

    This is such fantastic, practical advice! Especially the tip about asking for pronouns on your paperwork (which hadn’t ever occurred to me, despite having many trans and gender queer loved ones in my life and a relative level of comfort with non-standard pronouns). And the one about not outing people online: since marriage is a public declaration, it’s easy to assume that people would be comfortable sharing their orientation with the Internet, but that is not necessarily the case.

    Much thanks for this thoughtful and empowering article. This raises my expectations for how businesses handle my relationship, in the best way!

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  • gen

    The fear of being rejected/refused service is very real for lgbt people planning weddings, especially in states without marriage equality. My partner and I had our own panic moment about this on the day we had scheduled our tours of potential wedding venues. We were bringing our parents (who were meeting for the first time!) to help us decide where to have the wedding, and we realized that morning that we hadn’t checked with any of the venues if they were gay friendly. We had visions of being humiliated/ turned away in front of our parents! I spent a frantic hour emailing and calling places to make sure they would be respectful to us. Luckily they all were great, but I should not have had to go through such a panic driven moment on what should have been a fun day. If the vendors had simply listed “gay-friendly” on their website, it would have saved me so much time and panic.
    Dress shopping was super annoying too. I was picking out bridesmaids’ dresses at David’s Bridal, and (like any other bride) I wanted them to put me in their system so that my bridesmaids could come in, give them my name, and get their dress. The older lady at the counter got so flustered when I didn’t want to give her my fiance’s name and information. She kept insisting that they needed “HIS” name in order to put my dress in the system. First of all, even if I was straight, why on earth do you need my fiance’s name, address, phone number etc? Second, the way she kept assuming that my fiance was male made me so uncomfortable that I just left. Should I have come out to her? Perhaps, but I was alone and surrounded by midwestern ladies in the straight female mecca of a bridal salon. I didn’t feel like coming out. I just wanted to order the dang bridesmaids’ dresses. Ugh.

  • Frances

    I hope vendors also consider that their straight clients consider LGBT friendliness a plus, too! I’m looking at makeup artists and hair stylists right now, and one company I’m looking at prominently features a beautiful photo of two brides (with awesome looking hair!). That definitely went in the pro-column for me – I want to support inclusive vendors!

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  • kathleen smith

    (How i got my husband back with the prayers of Dr Akim )I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so fwhen that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com).

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  • Candy

    Thank you Kelly for writing this! Of course we’ve benefited from your advice for years now (whoa… literally years), but it’s always good to get a reminder!!!

    Well written!

  • Samantha

    sorry for digging up an old post, but I wanted to thank you for writing this. I’ve recently started venue hunting as a lesbian woman. I don’t know how many time’s I’ve had to clarify that my fiancee is a woman not a man while filling out forms and whatnot. I’m so afraid of someone saying ‘we don’t do gay weddings’ that on every email I send, I mention we’re a same sex couple in the first sentence so I don’t fall in love with a bakery or a florist and then find out they won’t do business with me.